It is not surprising that a National Review online poll asking “Is Harry Reid Flaky or Malevolent?” is running 85 percent malevolent.  

Now comes liberal Washington Post columnist Richard Cohen, joining liberal comedian Jon Stewart in lambasting Reid for his unsubstantiated (!) smear that Mitt Romney paid no taxes for a decade. In a PostPartisan piece headlined “Harry Reid’s Gutter Politics,” Cohen writes:

In “The Godfather Part II,” a senator from Nevada is portrayed as corrupt. His name is Pat Geary. In real life, a senator from Nevada is a jerk. His name is Harry Reid.

Reid is where he loves to be: the center of controversy. He has accused Mitt Romney of paying no taxes for 10 years. Romney denies the accusation and challenged Reid to put up or shut up. In an apparent response, Reid repeated the charges on the Senate floor. Countless aides have echoed their boss. They and he attribute their information to a source they will not name.

Whether such a source exists, really, is beside the point. It could be that someone did indeed tell Reid that Romney paid no taxes for 10 years. Journalists get that sort of tip all the time, and their responsibility is (1) to check it out and (2) identify the source. Reid has not done the latter and apparently has not done the former, either. The truth is that Reid doesn’t really care if the charge is true or not. He would prefer the former, but he’ll settle for the latter.

For Reid, this is yet another brazen and tasteless partisan attack. As majority leader, he has managed to sink the public image of the Senate even lower than it would otherwise be. He contributes to bad feelings, gridlock and the sense — nay, the reality — that everything is done for political advantage. Reid is a crass man, the very personification of the gaudy and kitschy Las Vegas Strip.

Whooaa! The Las Vegas Strip is a wonderful bit of Americana. But this is an otherwise terrific column.

Unlike many of my conservative friends, including most recently Ed Rollins on Fox’s Sunday show yesterday, I don’t think Romney should release any more tax returns. Romney has released two years, which is enough. Tax returns, even your own, are confusing. The general, voting public is not going to go over Romney’s returns with a fine tooth comb—indeed, we don’t know what to look for and how to read these documents (a good argument for tax reform!). Whatever is there, and I am assuming it is all clean as a whistle, the Democrats can find something to demagogue. Put it this way: Would you want Harry Reid—who hasn’t released his own returns—poring over yours?

Even if Romney paid taxes at the highest rate, the Obama campaign could unearth and distort something. We want virtuous men and women elected to high office, but we don’t need twelve years of byzantine tax documents to make the determination about a candidate. But this kind of thing is a standard Obama tactic, and one that, without a record on which to run, is his main hope.

But do you really need 12 years of tax returns, that will be read only by political operatives with an agenda, to judge the probity of a man or woman? Well, certainly former Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t—she has already proclaimed Reid charges “a fact.”